Richmond had almost 38,000 residents in 1860, including 11,739 enslaved people, and it reached over 100,000 by 1863, although no census was taken during the war. Some estimates place the number between 130,000 and 150,000 by 1865. Severe consequences accompanied the tremendous increase in population. Local police forces were small, and they could not control the crime wave until the war ended. Gambling dens and prostitution houses flourished in the city even after Confederate general John H. Winder took control in February 1862, while rival juvenile gangs threatened locals with petty robbery and assault. Laboring classes were significantly affected by overcrowding and inflation. Even though wages rose throughout the period, consumer prices continued to rise. Due to this social powder keg, the Richmond Bread Riot finally exploded on April 2, 1863. Most of the women worked in the city’s government bureaus and factories. They marched to the Executive Mansion to meet with Virginia governor John L. Letcher to celebrate their right to live. By the time the crowd reached the business district, hundreds of others had joined the crowd in anger at his rebuff. The artillery threat dispersed the mob after two hours of plunder and mob violence. Although the Bread Riot sobered local and Confederate officials, it also highlighted the desperate state of some in the city.
During the American Civil War, Richmond, Virginia, was the capital of the Confederate States of America. It served as the capital of Virginia, although the governor and General Assembly moved to Lynchburg for five days when the city was about to fall to Union forces in April 1865. Richmond was not only the political capital of the Confederacy but also a rail and industry hub, as well as a prisoner-of-war camp and Libby Prison. Tredegar ironworks was the keystone of the local economy, with grain milling and iron manufacturing also contributing to its success. The Bread Riot of April 1863 was one of several civil disturbances triggered by Confederate citizens flocking to the capital for safety and jobs from the start of the war. The Eastern Theater of the war was primarily fought in Richmond due to its economic and political importance and proximity to the government’s capital. This success-especially its ability to mobilize, outfit, and feed the Confederate armies in 1865-predestined its near destruction. Confederates essentially caused that destruction, although images of the city’s ruins are iconic representations of war’s toll.
Here are some stunning historical photos that show Richmon during and after the Civil War.